Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come (The Funeral Blues, W.H. Auden)
It was announced last week, landing like an anvil on social media, Town Danceboutique, the District’s only real queer dance club, has only a year left before it closes its doors forever. Yes, we have Cobalt and Flash, but we all know Town stands apart from the rest. The reaction to the news was swift, and, as if an old friend had announced on Facebook he was moving away for good, people began to mourn.
What is Town, anyway? Or more precisely, what does Town represent to us? A place for a bear happy hour, country and western line dancing, drag shows, a beer garden, dance parties, a place where we came to raise funds for the Pulse victims. A place as large as Town is, the landscape and environment can change by the hour, by the room, by the music, to accommodate most any taste or preference of a diverse urban queer community. To those new to the city and to dance clubs, perhaps freshly out of college or freshly out altogether, stepping out onto the dance floor at Town and at clubs like it was stepping out into something much larger, a space allowing for a new expression. My friend James likened Town to that hip aunt that always knew, the one you could really be yourself around. To those of us who’ve been in the District a decade or more, Town reminded us of the Nation days, an otherwise nondescript warehouse in another part of the city that provided within its walls the venue for another world.
Town played it smart though, giving us all a year to mourn. Giving themselves time to regroup and find another space, which I sincerely hope they do. This might prove to be challenging. Opening 10 years ago, we can perhaps all agree that 10 years is a long time in a city such as this. People come and go, the city itself changed, and finding a warehouse space such as that may be difficult. Progress can be tricky, as the city progresses, and the LGBTQ movement progresses, certain things get left behind. There was a grittiness, a certain freedom of movement and expression that went along with being on the margins. As Town announced its impending closure, making way for condos, many in the gay community were openly wondering if we’ve effectively out-gentrified ourselves.
For some time, people have been writing the obituary for the gay bar. I’m not quite there yet. Gay bars and clubs, any real spaces minority groups set up for themselves, will always have value and need. After all, one cannot overemphasize the importance of being able to enter a space, in practically every city in countless countries, and knowing you have at least one thing in common with everyone in the room.
So what will happen now? We have a year. And in a city such as ours, a year can make a whole lot of difference. Let’s not break out the black armbands just yet.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based freelance writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.